There’s several things that authors do to sell books. Some of them are more effective than others. When done right, they can help a lot.
Some of the main ones are putting their name on a book (I stick with my authors that I like. I buy many, many books just because they have that author’s name on them.), having an engaging title, getting good cover-quotes, having a beautiful cover, and having an interesting summary on the back cover/inside flap.
Some of these things are easier to control for the author than others. There’s one more that I think can sell a book, and that’s the first line/paragraph. I have bought only a handful of books this way, and I can honestly only remember one that I bought solely for the first line. Many of my favorite books have moderately forgettable first lines–I just checked some of them and had completely forgotten them. And others stick with me long, long after I finish the book. I’ll probably write a post at some point about what makes a really good first line, one that hooks a reader and sells a book, but I’m really just writing this post to enjoy some of my favorite first lines.
Try to guess which books they’re from.
This one, well. If you don’t recognize it, shame on you. Shame on you.
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
This one I remember both for its beauty and the way it is repeated throughout the series. I’m putting the first paragraph here, and yes, this one is a dead giveaway.
“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.”
This one is another classic.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
This was one of my favorites as a kid.
“It’s me again, Hank the Cowdog.”
This one is more recent, but I love how tense and immediate it is.
“Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.”
And this is the line that sold a book to me. (For those who don’t know, my name is Mark.)
“I hope you’re reading this, Mark.”
Here’s a few more first lines. If you gave these to me out of the blue, I might not be able to place them, though the books they come from are some of my absolute favorites.
“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”
“Ho Chi Minh City in the summer.”
“Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain.”
“The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer.”